In an op-ed piece from the Washington Post, two former senior Justice Department officials have called for an end to the asset-forfeiture program they helped create for the federal government.
John Yoder and Brad Cates were each, in turn, director of the Department’s Asset Forfeiture Office from 1983 to 1989. They say federal asset forfeiture was conceived to combat drug trafficking by kingpins, but in 1986, the concept began to expand to kickstart our modern anti-money-laundering regime, and eventually, asset forfeiture came to include more than 200 crimes beyond drugs. They now say it should be abolished, and their story has attracted widespread attention.
The stories of abuses are not uncommon. Just this week, the Des Moines Register covered the travails of two professional poker players who have sued for damages after they allege state troopers unlawfully seized $100,000 from them and then tried to compel them to capitulate by getting them charged with drug crimes.
When the two men were stopped in Iowa, they were driving from a World Series of Poker tournament in Illinois, and their rented car had Nevada plates. They were supposedly stopped for passing another car without signaling, but dash-camera video from the patrol car clearly shows otherwise, and one of the officers may have fudged other facts at his deposition. After hiring an attorney, the two were able to recover $90,000, but they had to spend $30,000 on legal fees to do it, and by then, one of them had suffered a stroke after their homes in California were raided for marijuana. Why? It seems California authorities received a “tip” from Iowa police after they found a tiny amount of pot inside a marijuana grinder during the traffic stop. Those California searches led to felony drug-possession charges for the men, even though both had medical marijuana cards. All charges in both states have since been dropped.
Their story has received some national attention as well.